Interview with comedian, actor, and writer Aliya Kanani

Aliya's debut stand up show ‘Where Are You From, From?' is coming up to Edinburgh this August. We talk about her inspirations, her career path, and why she wants to take part in the largest arts festival in the world. 

Interview with comedian, actor, and writer Aliya Kanani

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Hello reader! My name is Aliya Kanani, no middle name. Cool huh? I’m a comedian, actor, writer, entertainer and maverick based in Toronto, Canada. And your new best friend!

How would you describe your show?

It’s a show where you will laugh a lot and leave feeling good about yourself and others. I might make you laugh so hard you pee a little. I did that to a woman recently, thankfully she did not seem upset about it.  

The themes of my show center around identity, belonging and togetherness...but Iike, I also talk about sex, drugs and hip hop. By the end of the show there’s always this magical connection in the room that feels like we all just had a nice day at camp! 

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Cause I have heard it is an absolute circus, an explosion of art all over the city, and I absolutely needed to see what that looks like!

What differentiates it from other festivals?

It is my first Edfringe I must admit, but from what I have gathered I’d say what makes this festival special is the variety of the performers from different disciplines from all over the world. You can also find people at all different stages of their artistic career performing in venues next to each other or sometimes even the same ones!

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

To be honest, it all kind of happened unexpectedly. I was working as a flight attendant and always traveling around, but when a close family member got sick I stopped floating and grounded myself in Toronto to take care of them. I quickly became stir crazy and decided to take on some hobbies. I signed up for Groupon to get discounts on Yoga class and Zumba…and then a Groupon for a comedy writing class found its way to my inbox. I thought it may be a fun hobby, but I ended up pouring myself into it and the passion behind my work made it clear to me that this was now my place in life. 

Though I didn’t really watch much TV growing up, I did have this VHS copy of The Original Kings of Comedy with Bernie Mac, D. L. Hughley, Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer. I would play it all the time to the point where I could recite each one of their acts verbatim. Not because I wanted to do comedy at the time, I just loved their jokes!

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?

I was always a creative child but that wasn’t something that was encouraged or fostered so I let it go. I found other joys in life, a love for travel was one of them. I was on my own from a young age and had little money so in order to travel I found a job as a flight attendant. I studied art, culture, sociology and history not through school but through my travels. These experiences greatly shaped my perspective and the things I talk about on stage.

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

The night before my younger sister’s birthday I decided I wanted to do a dance performance for her party, which sounds weird but very common in my culture. I asked my mom if I could learn to do this Bollywood dance I had seen, at 10pm on the night before the party. I saw her eyes light up. She was even more excited to do it than I was. I later found out it was because she was not allowed to dance when she was younger. She stayed up until 2am teaching me the dance as we watched the music video over and over again, rewinding the VHS and learning all the moves. I performed it the next day at the party and she looked so damn proud. 

Ok. bonus question for fun since I read the last one wrong. I read what is your earliest childhood memory instead of what is your earliest childhood ART memory. Here is what I answered. 

My earliest memory is waking up in a hot dog. My mom said I couldn’t leave the table and play with my cousins until I finished my food, but I was a terrible eater. I sat there for what felt like forever staring at this meat in a bun that most kids would have been delighted to eat and refused to take another bite. I don’t remember how the next part happened, but I woke up with ketchup and mustard smeared all over my face and the sound of my mother laughing so hard at the site she walked back into when she re-entered the kitchen. It was so ridiculous that she could not even be mad. She wiped my face clean and I got to go play with the other kids.  

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

Honestly I think I would go back to being a flight attendant. I loved that job! I got flight passes which made me feel like a millionaire, I got to meet all kinds of people which I love to do, and I would make my passengers laugh all the time! And, because they didn’t come on the flight expecting me to be nice (flight attendants in North America have a terrible reputation for being surly), let alone make them laugh,  they would be so happy and grateful. So, I would literally come to work and spend my day getting paid to get compliments from strangers. I LOVE compliments!

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now?

I had to test out new material on friends since I could no longer perform in front of live audiences. I now have fewer friends.  

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

A year of almosts.

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’?

Well, I do not subscribe to cancel culture at all, so I guess that’s a yes? I just don’t see how we are making progress by canceling anyone. And if we really must cancel people, can we please start with billionaires? And maybe people who stand on the walking side of the escalator. 

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

I would work with Julia Louis-Dreyfus because she is a queen and comedic genius. I would learn everything she knows and then go back in time and take all her roles including Elaine from Seinfeld and Vice President Selena Meyer from Veep. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Ask a lot of questions to the people you know who have done it. You will be amazed at how much you will learn about what NOT to do from other peoples failures. Also don’t forget to pack deodorant, I heard some of the venues don’t have air conditioning. You’re welcome ;) 

When and where can people see your show?

7:40pm Aug 4-29 (except 15th) at The Tron

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

@aliyakomedy on all my socials or www.aliyakanani.com

Aliya Kanani’s debut stand up show ‘Where Are You From, From?’ will be at the Just The Tonic Tron for the month at 7.40pm from 4th August for tickets go to www.edfringe.com

Header Image Credit: Monica Pronk

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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